Why don't we have more gun control given that there is such overwhelming bipartisan public consensus in favor of that policy? WEKS strikes again . . .
So there have been a rash of news commentaries recently about “why” we don’t have more gun control given that there is overwhelming “public support” for it.
I myself have offered explanations for this in the past.
But I’m wondering: is the premise really true? Is there really overwhelming public support for more gun control?
Or is this (like the “astonishing change in societal norms on gay marriage”) another instance of “WEKS” – “ ‘what everyone knows [is true]' syndrome,” the condition in which people with like-minded cultural outlooks convince themselves that “everyone” agrees with them on some issue that is in fact highly contested as a cultural matter?
Well, here’s some evidence for WEKS:
They both show that gun control is not only massively polarizing but is among the most polarizing issue in American politial life—right up there with climate change and affirmative action.
The left-hand panel uses the tried-and-true Industrial Strength Risk Perception Meaure, which, as a result of the “affect heuristic” (Finucane, Alhakami, Slovic & Johnson 2000), magically encapuslates in one simple it the same level of covariance one would see when one relates the variable on the x-axis (here political outlooks) to any other more specific question that individuals would recognize as having to do with the risk in questin (e.g., on global warming, “is it happening,” “are humans causing it,” “are we all going to suffer horrendous harm as a result of it” etc).
It helps to show, then, that the proposition that there is as much polarization on guns—whether one frames the issue as one of the risks of allowing or not allowing people to have them—as there is on climate change, which is pretty much the most polarizing issue today (maybe ever) in American politics (there’s definitely a lot of “WEKS” on that, btw, although there is also the disturbing influence of attempts to “message” people with invalid surveys; maybe I’ll talk about that “tomorrow”).
It shows, again, that proposals for stricter gun control laws have the same political-polarization profile as many of the issues we recognize as benchmarks of left-right factionalization. I’ve also put in a couple of “non-polarized” issues just as a reference point (if you didn’t know vaccines were non-polarizing, you need to get out—of the WEKS bubble—more often).
Those data, again, are from Jan.
But another reason for putting in the left-hand side ISRPM panel is to help asnwer the question whether “something might have changed” given recent mass shooting. Because the covariance from the ISRPM will always be nearly identical to the covariance on policy issues like this (for a miraclous proof of that propostion, check this out), we can be confident that if we are seeing the sort of ISRPM profile displayed in the left-hand panel, then we’d still see today the sort of division on “policy preferences,” or any other gun control question we might ask that people could actually understand.
So . . .
Why do so many people (but not all! there are plenty of people, it should be pointed out, who recognize gun control is polarizing) think there is consensus in the public for more gun control?
Like I said, I’ve definitely myself formed and expressed this impression myself!
But I do think it is almost certainly WEKS at work. The people who say there is consensus for "more control" are on the “left” or at least tend to be inside the left’s political-communication bubble. Actually, people on the "right" think there is consensus against gun control; they live in their own bubble!
But there might be other explanations, too. . .
What do you think?
Finucane, Melissa L., Ali Alhakami, Paul Slovic, and Stephen M. Johnson. 2000. "The Affect Heuristic in Judgments of Risks and Benefits." Journal of Behavioral Decision Making 13 (1):1-17.